*Trigger Warning – this book discusses child sexual abuse, human trafficking, and adult sexual behavior. We also discuss these topics in this post.
I’m a bit late to this conversation. I know.
Conservative Christian influencers have been discussing this book for weeks, ever since the movie was released. After hearing the movie had a decent amount of sex scenes in it, I figured it would be mostly boycotted. Boycotted might be too strong of a word, but “discouraged” seems too generous, so, its something in-between.
I want to start out by saying that I read Redeeming Love once, about five years ago, and I haven’t seen the movie yet.
I hope to share a different perspective on the book, give you a bit of a crash course in literary interpretation, and leave you with a few thoughts to ponder.
I have so much respect for many of the women sharing their opinions of this book, I just happen to disagree with their conclusions.
Let’s get started.
The First Questions
When discussing literature, you must start with the two most important questions a reader can ask: who is the intended audience, and what is the author’s intent for the book?
If you don’t start with these two questions, you end up going in blind. You completely disregard the author, the entire process of his/her writing, and the main reason they even wrote the story.
These are the first two questions you ask whether you are reading fiction or non-fiction, but, obviously, you are going to have very different answers between the genres. Because fiction has something non-fiction does not: an entire world created inside the author’s imagination where they function in god-like power over the story.
In literature it doesn’t matter who the reader thinks the audience is, it matters who the author says it is. The author is the creator of the world you’re reading. They are the omnipotent guide of the story. Nothing happens without the author.
Fiction can be a powerful tool for teaching truth, but when it comes to Christian Fiction specifically, we need to remember as readers, that this isn’t scripture, it’s a story, and even if it might have elements of truth in it, that’s all it is: a story with elements of truth. It’s not the Bible. It’s not inspired. It’s not “extra Biblical” in any sense. It’s story.
When it comes to Redeeming Love, we need to remember that it is fiction. The world the author creates is from her imagination. It has elements of history, but barely, its only historical in it’s setting. The point of the story isn’t to teach us about the wild west. Not in this story. In this story, the time in which everything takes place functions as a setting, a stage to tell the rest of the story upon. The setting isn’t the story itself…if that makes sense.
Who Is The Intended Audience?
Much of the negative feedback I’ve seen is from people who read the book as a teen and said it gave them unrealistic expectations of the man they would marry. This is precisely what Allie Beth Stuckey said, and while I have so much respect for her as a sister in Christ, I have other thoughts.
One. Stuckey’s experience is NOT the author’s fault. I dare say the author didn’t intend Redeeming Love to be read by hormonal 14 and 15-year-olds. This is a book for adults!
Two. I would ask if there is any Christian romance or secular romance that doesn’t do this. It is kind of the purpose of the genre: to romanticize.
Three. Should we also not read Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice or Les Miserables or Little Women? Those novels also give unrealistic expectations of men, or is that ok because they aren’t “Christian”?
It’s almost like Stuckey thinks women can’t differentiate between fiction and reality, or that the fiction of Redeeming Love is just too influential. If we are incapable of discussing Christian Historical Romance within it’s fictional context, goodness knows we likely have no business reading or engaging in anything secular – to consume stories is to invite conversation. The two go hand-in-hand.
If I had to guess, I’d say the intended audience for Redeeming Love is married, Christian women with a history of sexual abuse and brokenness who long for God to redeem their sexuality into what God originally intended.
This is extreemly specific, and do you see how this immeadiately changes the intent of the book?
If you read Redeeming Love as a teen, you likely weren’t the inteded audiance. Again, this isn’t the author’s fault. It’s your mother’s.
Surprise! It isn’t an authors job to make sure your teen understands the nuances of her story, it’s yours. Half the reason authors write their stories is to foster conversation. Discussion is usually the point of controversy in novels, because it gets the reader asking questions they wouldn’t otherwise ask. The author makes you uncomfortable on purpose.
If your mother had no idea what you were reading, or assumed it was fine because it was a “Christian book”, that’s not on the author. Your mother should have read the book first and discussed it with you as a work of fiction set inside a romanticized, false reality. And even if you didn’t have a mother willing or capable of having such a conversation with you, it still isn’t the author’s fault that you read her book and fantacized about a man like the one in the book. That clearly isn’t the point of the book. You, as a young reader, were simply too immature to pick up on this and gravitated toward what best served you within the narrative.
The intended audience absolutely matters, and teen girls isn’t it.
What Is The Author’s Intent In Writing The Book?
Second, the author’s intent for the story matters.
This is the second question you ask when analyzing literature.
Redeeming Love is NOT theology. Its fiction. This is not a retelling of the book of Hosea. It’s a story LOOSELY based on a book of the Bible. Loosely.
Alisa Childers, who I also have deep respect for, made this the key point in her analysis of the novel, but I believe she’s taking the story far too seriously and, more importantly, not as the author intended.
To assume Redeeming Love is an accurate retelling of Hosea is to completely miss the mark. You are assuming something the author never said. Francine Rivers never said it was a work of theology or an allegory, becuase it’s not. She took characters out of a book in the Bible and completely reimagined a fictional story set in a different time, era, country, and added any and all characters and events that she wanted to.
The point of the book isn’t to retell Hosea. The point of the book is that God cares about our sexual brokenness and longs to heal us to a point where we feel no fear and can be completely intimate with another human in the confines of marriage and that story is inspired by Hosea.
Rivers also has similar themes in other books she has written based on women of the Bible.
This is why there is a genre specifically for such depictions, it’s called allegory.
Redeeming Love is no more an allegory of Hosea than “King George and the Ducky” is an allegory of King David committing adultery with Bathsheba. Allegory and “creative retellings” are NOT the same, EVEN IF they draw on the same themes.
Rivers depicts the struggles and realities of such a healing journey in her own way, inside her own created story.
I daresay, Redeeming Love is the only Christian book I know of that does this. If there are other’s out there, please send the titles to me.
I know of no other fiction book, written for Christian women, that celebrates their sexuality and portrays God as celebrating it too. Celebrating it to the point of wanting to healing our sexual brokenness completely.
I’ve never even read a Christian book that deals this much with human trafficking, child sexual assault, or brothels.
The reason you cry at the end of this story, is because you feel everything the main character feels. And the only way for that to happen, is to show it through story.
As Christians, we have been given the gift of Christan Liberty. This means that while God draws clear lines for many things, there are others that he does not.
God tells his people that sex is to be between one man and one woman within the confines of a covenantal marriage. He doesn’t say you can’t have oral sex with your husband. Some people might love it. Some people seriously hate it. This is an example of Christian Liberty. If you and your spouse enjoy it, go for it! If you don’t, don’t.
Stories. Movies. Music. Art. Dance. These are expressions of creativity that God gives to us.
There’s this idea that if something is Christian that means it’s appropriate for everyone. This just isn’t true at all, and its ridiculous to apply this idea to Christian fiction. I would never let my young teen daughter read Redeeming Love.
Is it wrong for a Christian to write about Human Trafficking fictionally? No.
Is it wrong for a Christian to write a mild sex scene between a husband and a wife? I think you have to judge that for yourself. But don’t overlook the author’s intent and intended audience. (Remember we are talking about the book here, not the movie.)
If you say yes, then I’d ask, is it wrong for Christian’s to write about sex at all? Many Christian authors and pastors and doctors have written books for Christian’s on sex. I’ve read them. Is this wrong too? Or is it only wrong when it’s fiction?
Can we be super honest? If you’re 15, it doesn’t matter much what you read, basically, everything turns you on. Let’s be real, a kiss in a book turns you on. There doesn’t even have to be sex.
The conversation on romance, women’s lit, fiction, and Christian romance in particular is an incredibly overdue conversation. Some of this is nuanced. Some is just plain black and white. Some falls under Christian Liberty, but we’ll never get to a point where we work through it all if we never talk about it. These conversations are good! Even if you draw different conclusions from me.
We live a world where we are told every single day to give in to our sexual urges. We are told that we can do whatever we want, with whoever we want, and as long as it’s consensual, we’ll be fine and have fun and have zero regrets.
But we know these are lies.
Have you ever even considered that God wants you to be healed from whatever sexual brokeness you have SO THAT you can enjoy sex with your spouse in a way that is pure and intimate and free of fear? Because that is how God designed sex to be, and that stuns me!
I wholeheartedly believe that is the point of Redeeming Love. And when I read it as a married woman for the first time, I was so thankful I hadn’t read it as an unmarried woman. Because by the time I’d read Redeeming Love, I had already experienced what it meant to be loved by a man who was willing to walk softly into my brokeness and fears. I think, if you haven’t lived through love like that, its hard to understand the depth of the story in a tangible way.
Ultimately, I think this book is necessary. The conversations it carries within its pages are worth it. How else are we going to tell these stories? How else do we openly talk about God healing sexual brokenness? How else do we portray the struggle and the sheer length of time it takes to heal from sexual abuse? I know I’m not the only Christian who longs for more Christian fiction that dares to portray this journey. Christian fiction that isn’t always G-rated.
Do we need to be careful with what we expose ourselves to? Yes. Absolutely.
Is this book good for everyone? No. Not even a little.
I have a friend who couldn’t get past the first few chapters of this book because it triggered her so badly. The childhood sexual assault she’d endured had deeply wounded her, and reading Redeeming Love was just too much.
For some women, Redeeming Love will be G-rated compared to what she’s endured. For someone else, it might be the steamiest story she’s ever read.
I do believe this book honors God, marriage, and women. I don’t believe it’s for teens or even all adults.
Use the discernment God gives you.
Fiction Can Offer What Non-Fiction Can’t
I follow a woman on Facebook who grew up in a cult and was openly sexually abused by her father for years. The abuse got so bad she tried to commit suicide, twice.
This incredible woman found Jesus, healing, and justice and wrote a book about it. But, not everyone can handle telling their story in a memoir. Sometimes, fiction offers us a creative outlet for our pain, because fiction is art.
A writer can create a false reality in which to tell a truth. In Redeeming Love, it’s the story of child sexual assault and trafficking…and then Jesus, healing, and justice. The only difference is, it’s fiction.
This isn’t a conversation Christians have. We don’t sit around the fire and talk about the power of fiction or how stories can shape cultures or justice issues or open conversations. But, all the same, this is what fiction does.
Think of the impact of the simple story of The Emperors New Clothes. Think of The Scarlett Letter. Think of To Kill a Mockingbird.
These are stories we carry inside us. They have shaped cultures, thoughts; and they still do.
You don’t have to read a story you feel convicted of. But, do you feel convicted or do you feel uncomfortable? These emotions are not the same thing.
Are you reading to learn or reading to lust? Are you reading to better understand the broken or are you reading for your own pleasure? What if we understood that some stories aren’t necessarily for our entertainment, but for us to learn something?
We must be willing to ask ourselves these questions, because our children are reading and encountering stories like this and far more graphic everyday. If we can’t answer these questions for ourselves, how will we ever help our children answer them?
We must be willing to consider the purpose of fiction.